Future proofing Hong Kong’s traffic networks

Road transportation plays a crucial role in enabling cities to thrive, providing greater accessibility to all, which in turn helps power the economy. But road transport can also be a double-edged sword, with traffic congestion, road risk and increases in air and noise pollution emerging as uncomfortable by-products of road and traffic expansion.

Across the world, cities are aiming to build advanced road transportation systems that can achieve a faster, safer and greener mobility experience for all citizens. City planners and developers are ramping up efforts to reduce traffic congestion and road accidents by utilizing data-driven solutions for enhanced traffic and incident management.

Hong Kong is no exception, and AECOM works closely with various government departments to apply technology and data analytics to monitor traffic conditions and help minimize congestion, while also detecting traffic incidents and improving conditions for pedestrians.

At the same time, we are also seeing the huge potential the city has to future proof its road networks and create a safer, more efficient and smoother road transportation experience.
In particular, the development of the Northern Metropolis and other large-scale new town developments provide Hong Kong with an ideal opportunity to build a flexible, smart and sustainable road network, driven by Big Data and working for the benefit of both drivers and pedestrians.

Using data to monitor and manage road incidents

Hong Kong’s road network is among the most dense and heavily used in the world. According to the Highways Department, there are currently over 810,000 registered vehicles making use of just 2,238 kilometers of public roads. Complementing this network are 20 major road tunnels, 1,459 flyovers and bridges, and 1,599 footbridges and subways — all to support the smooth flow of people and goods.

Accommodating this small but densely packed road system is a challenge that cannot be solved simply by building new roads. Alongside new infrastructure, we also need the adoption of state-of-the-art traffic management systems, such as electronic toll collection and real-time traffic monitoring, that will play a key role in alleviating road traffic congestion and reducing traffic incidents in the city.

Great progress has already been made over the past two decades. In 2000, the Emergency Transport Coordination Centre (ETCC) was established by the Transport Department (TD) to monitor and handle traffic and transport incidents on public roads. However, due to the manual operation of incident management procedures, a lack of integration to the existing Traffic Control and Surveillance Systems (TCSSs) and the absence of a data sharing platform, ETCC’s capability in incident management and the dissemination of real-time traffic and transport information was greatly restricted.

In response, AECOM was commissioned by TD in 2011 to plan, design and develop a Traffic Incident and Management System (TIMS). Our response was a multi-functional digital system, capable of fusing all available real-time traffic information to perform automatic incident detection and to assess and recommend contingency plans to provide a better and faster response to incidents.

Data from the system can be shared with relevant stakeholders such as the Hong Kong Police Force, Fire Services Department, Highways Department and public transport operators, as well as with the media and general public.

Enhancing real-time traffic management through video technology

In 2016, AECOM again partnered with TD to further enhance traffic efficiency, this time through the installation of technologically advanced traffic detectors for real-time traffic detection.

Our teams installed video detectors that automatically detect traffic incidents and obtain data such as traffic speed and volume. Automatic License Plate Recognition detectors enable the identification of vehicle license plates which match with TD’s licensing system to collect traffic flow data of various vehicle classes. The resulting data is integrated in a single platform that processes information from many different sources, including TIMS, supplementary traffic data from all Traffic Control and Surveillance Systems, weather data and public transport arrival times.

At the time of the commission, only about 45 percent of strategic routes in Hong Kong were equipped with traffic detectors, which meant a complete picture of traffic conditions was not available. Working closely with TD, AECOM increased the total road coverage on strategic routes and major roads to 90 percent.

The city-wide coverage has enabled Hong Kong to establish a more comprehensive and effective traffic monitoring system, capable of managing the intensive traffic volume across its road network. It has also led to improved accuracy and efficiency of incident detection, whether these are traffic accidents, roadside loading and unloading, illegal parking and more.

Creating smart transport systems for new cities

Looking to the future and the aforementioned opportunity presented by the Northern Metropolis and other developments, we are excited to envisage how the application of similar technology across traffic surveillance, incident detection and transport management can be implemented directly into new city planning.

The Northern Metropolis, with its adjacency to Shenzhen, makes it an ideal place to pioneer these smart, data-driven traffic solutions not just for Hong Kong but also for the fast-emerging Greater Bay Area (GBA). Indeed, the adoption of these and other mobility innovations such as AV-ready roads and roadside infrastructure, on-demand transit services, automated parking systems and more, will go a long way to accelerate the transformation of the GBA by enhancing territory-wide transport efficiency and travel experiences.

As Hong Kong continues to grow, so will its road networks, necessitating the need for more efficient and sustainable traffic systems, powered by technology and data. AECOM’s local area knowledge and our experience in designing and operating integrated smart transport solutions across the globe will benefit the Hong Kong SAR Government’s transport roadmap for the Northern Metropolis and beyond.